Olympic heartache for Britain’s rhythmic team - Simpson’s Soapbox

Great Britain's rhythmic gymnasts show emotion after finishing in last place during the Visa International Gymnastics at the North Greenwich Arena, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 17, 2012. See PA story GYMNASTICS London. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Great Britain's rhythmic gymnasts show emotion after finishing in last place during the Visa International Gymnastics at the North Greenwich Arena, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 17, 2012. See PA story GYMNASTICS London. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
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ONE of the most off-putting sights in sport is to see managers shedding crocodile tears and stamping their feet in rage, pawing the ground in the technical area as they berate fourth officials when decisions go against them.

The temptation is always to tell them to grow up and to be aware of their greater responsibilities to the sport and its image, though it is worse than talking to the proverbial brick-wall.

But one group of young sports-people had genuine cause to cry – proper tears – this past sporting week, deserving the utmost sympathy.

The young women who made up the British rhythmic gymnastic team missed out on qualifying for this summer’s London Olympics by the narrowest of margins.

The difference between realising a lifetime dream and missing out on competing in a home Olympics by the agonising differential of 0.273 of a point.

The girls had to fund their own training and had to put their academic studies on the back-burner, their parents and supporters making financial sacrifices to ensure that they could give it 100 per cent commitment.

The fact that one of the girls’ ribbons failed to unfurl counted against them.

And yet they didn’t rant and rave about the injustice of it all as petty-minded managers do and point their ire in the direction of officials.

There has been an appeal by the governing body of gymnastics, but this looks to be a futile exercise and most likely there will be no reprieve from the British Olympic Association.

To see the girls in floods of tears was most touching, a picture of misery and desolation.

Compare that with the cavalier attitude of the seven footballers who snubbed a possible, once-in-a-lifetime invitation to take part in the British men’s soccer team at the Olympics.

That was only a small number out of the 191 contacted from all the home nations, but it is depressing nonetheless.

It is all too predictable – but perhaps understandable – why they have given the invitation short shrift.

If they have turned it down, they never deserved it in the first place.

What sacrifice did they go through to make their Olympic ambition come true?

None at all.

They may have had valid reasons, but the likelihood is that it was probably complete and utter indifference.

It wouldn’t be surprising if they didn’t open the letters of invitations themselves, but left it all to their agent to handle.

Maybe that is being harsh, but more fool them for missing out on something that will ever be offered to them again.

They will probably never give it a second thought – or suffer a pang of regret.

This is in marked contrast to the gymnastics girls, whose gnawing ache of loss and disappointment will never disappear.

n NOT all soccer crowds are known for their humour, but full marks to the Reading fans for being quick on the uptake in the recent match with Watford.

Reading had grabbed a late winner, leading to a mass exodus by the Hornets’ fans.

Quick as a flash, the Royals’ fans responded: ‘Is This A Fire Drill’ to the strains of La Donna e mobile.

n YOU couldn’t make it up...

Only on Saturday afternoon, Ascot racecourse did.

In a move as baffling as it was bizarre, Ascot chose a crazy way to make a point about their dress code.

Anyone who went into the premier enclosure without a jacket and tie had an orange sticker pinned on them as a reminder of how to dress ‘properly’ the next time they came to Ascot to frequent that area. I’d like to see them try that at Aintree racecourse, where the game girls who attend the Grand National meeting and have a unique variation on a theme, adopting their own ‘undress’ code.

Ascot’s actions only served to show how far behind they are in customer care and how they are out of kilter with society – that is surprising given that the Ascot chief executive is Charles Barnett, who used to work at Haydock and Aintree courses, where he was forward-thinking, as well as being popular with his staff.

This Ascot escapade is a slap in the face for the Racing For Change campaign, which has spent time, energy and money on trying to attract people to the sport.

Only 50 of the 1,000 spectators paying £28 apiece in the premier enclosure fell foul of the regulations and had the ‘badge of dishonour’ pinned on them, but Ascot decided to refund everyone, setting them back £28,000.

The loss in terms of bad publicity – and sheer stupidity – cannot easily be quantified.

Book of the week

THE jumps season is in full swing in readiness for the big Cheltenham festival in March, and there’s a timely reminder of equine heroes past in Yesterday’s Heroes* penned by Graham Buddry.

Like many who love the sport, his formative years ‘following’ the sport were spent turning the lever on the Escalado board game before turning to the real thing.

And Buddry’s memories recall the exploits of some of the jumpers who have warmed the heart over the years, including the likes of Sea Pigeon, Silver Buck, Desert Orchid, Wayward Lad, Crisp and Burrough Hill Lad, plus that remarkable old-timer Sonny Somers, who created a record by winning at the venerable age of 18.

There is also a chapter on Spanish Steps, the sort of equine hero the very mention of whose name is guaranteed to get any follower of the sport of a certain age coming over all sentimental.

Buddry provides a pleasurable gallop through the past, ending on a note of contention as he muses on which was the greatest chaser of all time.

Putting Silver Buck ahead of the likes of Arkle, Kauto Star and Golden Miller is some call, one likely to get as many supporters as the campaign for Fred Goodwin to keep his knighthood...

*Troubador Publishing, £16.95.